A Comprehensive University system? Why is the selection debate only focused on schools?

 

Professor Tim Blackman ,Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University , a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy , argued for a truly radical and democratic reform of the HE sector, last year, in a HEPI booklet The Comprehensive University.

We should ,he says , require all universities to have more diverse intakes – socially, ethnically and by ability. Comprehensive reform of higher education is long overdue, with its likely social and educational benefits from a ‘diversity bonus’ in all our institutions. The advocacy of selection in education he claims is driven by an impulse to separate people into deserving and undeserving, ‘us’ and ‘other’ As things stand, students at the ‘not high status’ institutions know that they are, in effect, in a low-status university and, by association, are ‘low status’ people who possibly should not be at university. These low-status students are more likely to be working class and black. They are advised to head for ‘high status’ universities if they are ‘talented’. The higher education sector currently both extends opportunity and entrenches class privilege, with the latter effect far outweighing the former. This, argues Blackman ,is a pretty shocking state of affairs that needs to be addressed on equality grounds alone, but ,he points out, there are likely to be significant educational and productivity dividends from ending it too. All students would benefit from replacing a stratified higher education system with mixed-tariff institutions where the diversity of cognitive abilities and identities would be a resource for everyone’s learning. This could be achieved through open access or basic matriculation quotas. Blackman says that a variety of admission mechanisms could be used to desegregate universities and move to all but a few being comprehensive. The simplest would be to require a fixed proportion of entry to be open access along the lines of the school academies that are allowed to use selection but only for a fixed proportion of their intake. Alternatively, there could be a minimum matriculation requirement, based on minimum threshold standards across the sector, but low enough to make a significant impact on the barrier to access created by high-entry requirements. Excess demand could then be managed using a lottery. This system could be combined with a levy, creating more diverse and more successful learning communities in all our universities.

It is interesting that debate on selection is currently almost entirely focused on the schools system and the expansion, or not, of grammar schools. . Blackman has opened up another front. About time too

HEPI Occasional Paper

See also Blog

http://www.hepi.ac.uk/2018/04/17/comprehensive-free-university/

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HIGHER EDUCATION – TRENDS IN 2018

Looking Ahead- HE and 2018

Vice Chancellors remuneration has shed light on the quality of leadership, governance, and lax regulation in HE .The sector hasn’t reacted intelligently to the changing dynamic between producer and consumer. Too little transparency and accountability have been in evidence. The Office for Students, which is now  in place,  will be firing on all cylinders from April and Professor Barber has made it clear that he wants to see changes over pay, accountability and Freedom of Speech, with more to come  . OfS  aims  to  ensure that the sector is more consumer focused. How the sector is funded, and student debt, will very much remain on the agenda,  Lord Adonis will see to that. The combination of increased concerns over the value of degrees, with more information available for students on  employment destinations, will pressure universities to  improve their offers and focus more  on the  quality both of  their teaching and pastoral support.

Research has always trumped teaching in the sector .The TEF, with its clunky metrics, is work in progress, but expect some significant   rebalancing in favour of teaching.   Universities can learn more from schools about teaching and pastoral support.  So expect more co-operation between HE and secondary sectors and not just in outreach.

Technological breakthroughs in AI , robotics, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing,  will   offer immense scope for new courses, research  and  innovative  partnerships between institutions and business. So watch this space. Though some claims about AI may be overblown, it really will change the way we do things, not least in education, and, longer term, impact significantly on the employment market.

Three year degrees haven’t  had there day, but expect increased disruption in the market,  and more  students choosing non-traditional routes into employment.  More accelerated degrees will be developed  , and  possibly even four year degrees in niche areas. The Higher and Degree Apprenticeships offers will gradually improve in quality and scope , with more student choice, and better matches with employers demands but  expect incremental change here, rather than  a stampede. Delivery lags behind the up beat narrative.

As demand for education outstrips supply, globally, internationalisation of education and transnational education will grow. Structures and means of delivery are changing. Abroad, look at what Michael Crow is doing at the University of Arizona- re-engineering courses , technological delivery  platforms and pedagogy, greater use of AI,  matching excellence and improved  access in the same institution , something of a holy grail in the sector. As for Brexit,   it will have limited impact both on staff and research this  year. And , on a positive note,  there is a big incentive for universities to be more  outward looking,  to form partnerships and to co-operate with institutions  abroad  whether its in research, teaching or innovation or,  indeed, in investigating the setting up of satellite campuses.     And  lets try to be nicer to international students. We need them. In this respect it will be worth watching the passage of the Immigration Bill. Although the sector remains highly competitive internationally it is perhaps significant that students in both China and India are increasingly making Australia their second choice after the USA, and not the UK. We have few areas where we have a comparative advantage in international markets but education is one.  But we have to work harder just to maintain our competitive position,  a message that has not got through to some in government and the sector

THE BRITISH COUNCIL – AND THE COSTS OF SOFT POWER

The Times and many influential members of the establishment have expressed their growing concerns about funding cuts to the British Council. The Council has been seen as indispensable, they say, to the projection of our‘ soft power’, which we need more now than ever before.  Earlier this month The Times revealed the Foreign Office’s £39 million-a-year grant to fund much of its cultural activity in countries not entitled to aid was to be phased out over the next three years. It is reallocating funding towards poorer countries.  The council, a public body, also a registered charity, has promoted British values, culture and education around the world for 80 years, using soft power to cultivate relationships which survived the Second World War and the end of Empire. On the education front it has   offered, amongst other things , English language teaching abroad, seen to be its strongest card  and one of its  stated roles is to support UK  education exporters . It is partly funded by the taxpayer.

When the British Councils funding is thought to be under threat, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the great and the good, and the elite who define our culture for us,  become animated and   write lots of letters and  raise the matter  urgently in Parliament.  Make no mistake, the BC has many friends in high places.  In this case,  its supporters have  appealed to the Times. A supportive Leader,   somewhat inevitably, followed.

But as the Times reminds us the British Council has a reputation for  being poor at controlling its operational and staff  costs .  It also has a pretty poor record of  measuring its outputs, or demonstrating that it offers value for money to the British taxpayer. You see soft power is hard to measure and evaluate, so the BC always has a get out of jail card in its back pocket,when challenged about   value for money. In  the most recent Triennial review of the British Councils operations (2014)  concerns were registered by stakeholders  ie other English language education providers (remember its supposed to support our  education exports)about  its anti-competitive antics in the market,  as a subsidised provider of services. There are, and have long   been, particular concerns around the conduct of the BC covering   unfair competition,  conflicts of interest , and  a lack of accountability and transparency. The then junior Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire said in 2014 of the BC :

“I would argue that the threat from the commercial activities of the British Council has been real. Our concern is that in some ways, particularly in the provision of English language teaching and exams, it can freeze out the private sector. “

Spot on. This  was  the first time that any member  of any government had acknowledged that there might even  be an issue.  He went on to explain that  a  new independent complaints process was being  set up  run by a company called  Verita, which  was supposed to better  “hear and understand stakeholder concerns, including the concerns of the English language teaching and education sector, and take steps to address them.” Not much has been heard of Verita since.  Presumably its quietly going about its business.  Historically, though, complaints against the Council have rarely  been investigated with any semblance of  rigour.

The British Council wears many hats: it is a language school business, a language testing business, an international education marketing business (SIEM), an online english teaching business, a language school accreditor, an education service and support provider and  an exam provider . It also happens to compete in the above, with other UK providers , while ostensibly having the role as a promoter and supporter of these same providers. How does that work? Well, in short, it doesn’t and cant.  You cannot  work ‘for the benefit of all UK providers’ when you  compete directly with these same providers  for the same contracts abroad , often with a bit of very  special  bespoke support from local diplomats.

Kevin McNeany, one of our best education entrepreneurs  over  the last generation ,  having worked   in education for over 40 years,  told the Guardian a while back “ I never gave the British Council a moment’s consideration as a source of information and support. Even if they had information of commercial value, it would first be filtered through its own internal networks to see if it could be monetised for in-house benefit.” That’s what they do. Cherry pick for their own benefit,  and leave the rest   struggling with the remains

Going back to the  2014,  Triennial Review-it  found ‘ Feedback from some UK stakeholders reinforced our impression that the British Council was a less transparent organisation than might be expected of a major public body.’ That is an understatement. Its also hard to over -state how much ill feeling there is towards the BC in sections of the education market who believe that the BC,   far from supporting   their efforts,   actually undermine their business interests.   Not only have they used their privileged position to muscle out smaller providers from the market, but they use their contacts,  local intelligence and market  domination to secure the  big contracts, at the expense of other providers.  This is a nonsense if one is concerned about the development of this  education  export market and the  interests of UK plc , yet    its  been allowed to happen for years.

The   BC has also ,rather cleverly and quietly, been dipping into the aid budget too,   to make up for  the shortfalls in its FCO funding. The FCO has been subject to cuts, of course,  as has every other department ,excluding of  course  Aid.   Its not entirely clear why the BC should be exempt from cuts in a way that, for example , the Ministry of Defence and FCO aren’t.  Are we saying its Ok  as part of austerity measures to cut Defence (hard power)  but not  Culture (soft power)?

There is little evidence that the BC has done much in response to the recommendations made by the  last Triennial Review,  over improving its financial and operational transparency.   So, before one gets too dewy eyed about the BC and its ‘soft power’ being eroded , just remember that it should be subject to the same accountability  and transparency  as other bodies in receipt of taxpayers money. Which as things stand it isn’t.  .  As worrying is that in one  of the few export sectors where we should have a comparative advantage,  education,  and particularly  English language provision and related services, the BC increases the costs and risks of operating in that market, and acts as a barrier for many providers to enter that market in the first place. It reduces real competition in the market which affects  quality,   price and value for money. This all seems to be a matter of little concern to the great and the good,  or the Times, for that matter. One has to ask-why on earth not?

FORCING UNIVERSITIES TO SET UP, OR SPONSOR SCHOOLS, IN RETURN FOR FEE RISES IS NONSENSE ON STILTS

The Government said  in its recent  Green Paper that it   wants  all universities  either to   sponsor existing schools or set up new schools in exchange for the ability to charge   higher fees.

In addition to, but not instead of, the above requirements,  the government said  that  universities could consider:

  • supporting schools through being a member of the governing body or academy trust board;
  • assisting with curriculum design, mentoring of school pupils, and other educational support; and
  • provision of human resources, teaching capacity (for example in A-level STEM subjects), and finance support.

‘In addition to driving attainment, we could ask universities to consider taking into account geography, the number of good school places or higher education participation rates when deciding where to focus their energies’.

This proposal doesn’t even look good on paper.

It is not the business of universities to run schools . Besides, there is no evidence that they are  any good at it.   Why would they be?  Even specialist organisations that run schools as their core business find setting up,  or sponsoring,   a new school,   a challenging business. A number of Universities have tried, and to say that their record is patchy is an understatement.

If a University wants  to set up a new school then it needs to make a compelling  business   case for it, with a rigorous  risk assessment attached. Otherwise we will have more failed  ventures  on our hands,   that are wasteful , damaging to the institutions involved ,  and , most importantly, hugely damaging to pupils.

As one insider  put it to to me ‘  In what other sector could you imagine being required to do something you have no experience of in order to be able to ,or allowed to,  develop and market your core business?’

Good leadership ,and above all high  quality  teachers and teaching, are at the heart of  every  good school . But , who with their hand on their heart, can honestly  say that these  are currently the perceived   strengths of our  Higher Education Sector ?Indeed one of  the major motivating factors behind the Higher Education and Research Bill was the poor quality of teaching in too many universities . So, the government  is now actively incentivising   institutions , many with poor quality teachers and teaching,  to set up or sponsor schools… really?

Of course, the HE Sector could , and should, support schools and pupils  and add value in various  ways. There are many partnership programmes up and running already. This engagement between the HE sector and schools though   should be informed by  hard evidence of what works and is most effective.  Some Access programmes could be  better structured and evaluated, for example  but there is plenty of sound practice to be built on too.   Student progression,  transition  (and  careers guidance),  to higher education is an area where universities can do much  more. Curriculum and  professional development are two other  areas , as well as those  mentioned above in the Green paper.

But  forcing a university to set  up or sponsor a school in order  for it to raise its  fees makes no sense.  It could also do a lot of harm.

A much more flexible, evidential  approach is required from the government and  one should  pray that this will  be reflected in the eventual proposals that come out of the consultation process.

THE ELEVEN PLUS EXAM -IS IT FIT FOR PURPOSE?

THE ELEVEN PLUS EXAM
The Eleven Plus exam determines whether or not a child gets into a grammar school. Critics claim this is an arbitrary age at which to test children on their abilities and potential and that the exam is unfair on disadvantaged pupils who tend not to have educated parents, who can help them, or access to private tutoring. There has long been a claim that the exam is cleverly designed to be tutor proof and is structured to identify ‘real’ potential and ‘intelligence’ . But, If you believe that intelligence is not fixed (Carol Dweck) and there are different types of intelligence (Howard Gardner) then you are not likely to rate this exam.
There is of course too, a cottage industry in private tutoring that exists precisely in order to get children into grammar schools . So this claim has always been open to challenge. In addition, at least 18% of successful grammar school applicants attended private primary school, most of which, offer bespoke support for grammar school applicants.
In addition, Becky Allen points out that a so-called ‘tutor-proof’ test ,offered by CEM (Durham) and ‘introduced across Buckinghamshire for 2014 admissions (they apparently have around 40% of the 11+ market) hasn’t really proved itself. ‘It claims to make selection fairer by testing a wider range of abilities that are already being taught in primary schools, rather than skills that can be mastered through home tutoring. Following the introduction of the test, Buckinghamshire – a local authority with very low FSM rates across its schools – saw the number of FSM pupils attending grammar schools fall in 2014 and 2015.’
Recent analysis from the IFS found that attending a grammar school is good for the attainment and later earnings of those who get in, but that pupils in areas with selective state education who do not pass the 11-plus entrance exam do worse than in areas without grammars.
Proposals in the Green paper suggest that Ministers have doubts about the 11 Plus too. It says that selective schools would have to admit children at different ages, such as at 14 as well as at 11 and 16, to cater for pupils who develop later academically.

http://educationdatalab.org.uk/2016/09/there-is-not-yet-a-proven-route-to-help-disadvantaged-pupils-into-grammar-schools/

 

GRADUATE DEBT-A GROWING CHALLENGE FOR THE HE SECTOR

GRADUATE DEBT – A DEVELOPING NARRATIVE
The Higher Education sector should be wary. There is a narrative developing, articulated with increasing regularity in the media, that students are not getting value for money from their university education.

The graduate premium is not as big as Ministers claim, and in any case is narrowing significantly.  There are now   serious alternatives to a university education, including high quality apprenticeships and company and on the job  training programmes .Employers, fed up with the quality of graduates who apply  for their jobs, who signally lack   the kind of soft skills they are looking for,   are now   looking elsewhere. Thats the narrative. Students are being miss-sold  a university education.  Why saddle yourself with debt when you can be paid while you train for a guaranteed job?. Earlier this year the Higher Education Statistics Agency published figures showing that one in four graduates was not in a graduate job six months after receiving a degree

The Intergenerational Fund think tank, says that student debt payments wipe out the benefit of higher salaries for most graduates. Indeed, MP Frank Field found out from the Office for National Statistics  that more than a quarter of graduates were paid less than the £11.10  an hour average for those on work-based training schemes (Apprenticeships) in 2013 . With a  government focus on  incentivising the provision of   more high quality Apprenticeships the balance is likely to have tipped further in favour of those on work based training schemes, over the last three years.

Alice Thomson in the Times, this week ,wrote ‘The 500,000 students settling into campuses this autumn will be incurring average debts of £44,000. For those inspired by their courses and for the intellectually gifted, this is probably still worth every penny, but for many of the 49 per cent of the population who take up places at university it will be close to a waste of time. The higher education ombudsman has received more than 2,000 complaints from students in the past academic year over issues such as too little time with tutors, overcrowded lecture theatres and poor teaching. Apprenticeships are in many ways far better value for money. The National Grid’s engineering training programme for school leavers pays £23,500 a year.’ Thomson’s views are shared by a number of other commentators.

There is not much evidence that the sector is fighting back. Its  looking complacent, unaware of the avalanche that is about to hit it.

A report out this week from The Money Charity reinforces the idea that students are overburdened with debt.  The figures reveal that the latest group of students from England to begin to pay off their loans owe more than ever before.
The average debt for the graduates who entered repayment this year was £24,640, up from £21,170 in 2015. Due to incremental rises to tuition fees and maintenance loans, the sum owed by students has risen steadily for the past decade, tripling since 2003. Much of this is driven by the introduction, and gradual rise of tuition fees.

The other, often overlooked, driver of rising student debt is the runaway cost of accommodation, which requires ever larger maintenance loans just to keep up. Original research from The Money Charity last year found median rents growing by £277 between 2014 and 2015.

To make matters worse, this is the last group of students to pay a maximum of £3,465 in tuition fees before the rise to £9,000. So the 2017 group will immediately owe £16,605 more than their predecessors, even before we take into account the rising maintenance loans.
This year’s graduates, who will begin to repay next year will face average debt levels of well in excess of £41,000 – 35% of the average outstanding mortgage (£117,162)!
Michelle Highman, Chief Executive of The Money Charity says:
“For nearly half the young people in the UK, becoming a student will be the first step into adult life, with all the financial responsibilities that brings. We worry that these early, formative experiences of debt will leave a lasting legacy.”
“Normalising large quantities of debt right at the start of people’s financial independence risks setting them up to fail. The size of these sums may also affect later borrowing such as loans and mortgages.”
Universities are not just about preparing young people for the job market. Far from it. But students are now  paying for their Higher Education and incurring substantial debts before they even begin their working lives. This means that increasingly they will think about future earnings and the size of the so-called graduate premium and the likelihood of getting a graduate level job after their studies. They will take a keener  look at destination measures. In other words, how successful graduates  are, from particular institutions and courses, at getting good jobs after graduation. That is the new reality. And the sector will have to respond.

On a positive note for the sector, most young people aged 11-16 want to go to university, according to the latest survey(Sutton Trust). But more engagement with employers ,from 16 onwards   and better information on the options available to them,  could  mean that by 18   less   of this cohort  will opt  for Higher Education.

See Graduate Employment and Earnings Outcomes of Higher Education Graduates: Experimental data from the Longitudinal Education

Outcomes (LEO) datase
The median earnings five years post graduation for those graduating in 2003/04 was £26,000 compared to £25,500 for those who graduated in 2008/09
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/543794/SFR36-2016_main_text_LEO.pdf

HIGHER EDUCATION-MORE SCRUTINY IN FUTURE OVER ITS SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RETURNS

The sector  in future will face growing scrutiny over its economic and social returns

The recent IFS report (see link below) discovered that that at 23 universities men typically earned less even 10 years after graduating than their counterparts who’d never been. For women, it was at  nine  universities. A University education, of course, is   not just about ensuring that you have high level earnings in future years. But ,if the perception takes root  that for most there will be no graduate premium, that universities wont really help  you to be socially mobile and you will be stuck with debt for many, many  years, then the obvious  danger is that  many young people will begin to turn their backs  on Higher education.

Recent decades have seen a major increase in participation in higher education throughout the developed world. UK now has proportionately more graduates than any other rich country, bar Iceland. To many, probably  most, this is a good thing. It has   demonstrably improved the life opportunities of many more young people. But to others there are concerns  . Perhaps the rapid expansion  was underfunded,  maybe the quality of teaching  has declined,  due to the  increased pressure  on academics to do more with less,   and perhaps   degrees have  devalued in the job market, through over- supply.  There  is already a   perception that many graduates are, in some senses, being underutilised in the labour market. Put another way ,many graduates are now in jobs that are not considered, or certainly weren’t historically considered,  to be graduate level jobs.  It is arguable that too many graduates are in jobs that are low paying and don’t utilise the skills and knowledge that their degrees gave them (or purported to give them). Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian  this week points out that  one in six call-centre staff have degrees, as do about one in four of all air cabin crew and theme-park attendants.

This begs an obvious question- what is the point in creating more graduates unless you have more graduate-level jobs?

In 2015 the CIPD in a policy report concluded that ‘Policy-makers need to scrutinise the range of courses offered by the HE sector and seriously consider the social and private returns to them. We conjecture that they will conclude that, in many cases, public funds could more usefully be deployed elsewhere in the education and training system. Our findings suggest that the presence of a large HE sector will not necessarily lead to the attainment of the knowledge economy so beloved by successive UK governments.’

Its pretty safe to conclude that, in future, there will greater scrutiny from young people,  paying undergraduates , the government and regulators over the quality of degrees in HE institutions and the social and economic returns they  can deliver . It is also clear that there are some in government (see this weeks  Daily Telegraph leak story) who believe that some  degrees and HE institutions are not  currently delivering value for money for the students, and , indeed, taxpayers.

CIPD Over-qualification and skills mismatch in the graduate labour market-August 2015

http://www.cipd.co.uk/binaries/over-qualification-and-skills-mismatch-graduate-labour-market.pdf

IFS Working Paper-April 2016- How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background

http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/8233